People have lived on the Garhwal Himalayas for a long time. The mountainsides are terraced into fields up to a height of nearly three kilometers above sea level; perhaps even higher, although we did not travel so far. There are big farmhouses dotted about the hills. Villages are scattered collections of households. Perhaps the ease of being close to one’s fields overcomes the natural tendency to cluster into groups larger than families.
We stopped at various points along the road from Mussoorie (2 kilometers above sea level) to Kanatal (2.6 kilometers above sea level) to look out at the lower Himalayas, some slopes forested, others sculpted into agricultural land. The population density in this part of the country is similar to that in Sikkim. However, driving along roads in Sikkim gives you the feeling of being in forests, whereas Garhwal has the feel of a farming countryside.
Later, as we took a long afternoon walk through villages we saw an unexpected use of the terraces. A small game of cricket was in progress. The batsman did not have to pull back his shots. I managed to photograph a lusty shot, which would have carried the ball to a boundary even in an ordinary playing field. Here a fielder on a lower terrace gave chase. This region has a shortage of water. I wonder how hard farming must be at this height.
We ordered sushi for dinner. Half the people in the restaurant were too young to remember the kitschy song Sayonara Sayonara from the sound track of our childhood, which was our first tenuous link to Japan. While we polished off the last bits of ginger, The Family asked “Shall we go to Japan on our anniversary?” I swirled a slice of ginger through the soya sauce. Did I really hear that right? I looked up. “Japan?”, I asked. She nodded. I said “Of course.”
There are many Japans. You could visit for the temples and castles. Or you could want to see the crowds and bustle of the cities. What I like are the obsessions of the Japanese. I can walk around all night, looking for little shops which sell rice crisps (see the featured photo), or the vending machines with hot tea and cold coffee, or pachinko parlours with their zombie clients. I love the fact that I could decide to have a haircut after midnight and find a hairdresser’s open. I have wandered through streets, stopping at shops which sell ink and paper, looking at the calligraphy on display. I would love to go back to Osaka and look for the shop which made a name stamp for me. I have a fond memory of a little bar in a basement in Kyoto which specialized in whiskey and jazz.
What’s the best season? You can take your pick. Perhaps it could be the middle of winter when the streets are thronged by people in masks, and you have to warm your hands around a flask of hot sake. Or perhaps it is spring when it seems that most of Japan is drunk while the sakura is in bloom. I like the hot muggy summer, so like home, when the sound of crickets (photo above) keeps you company through sleepless nights. Autumn is special, when leaves turn colour in the temples of Kyoto or Nara and you are supposed to spend evenings looking at the moon. We’ll spend only a couple of weeks in Japan next year. I wish we could spend a year there.